John Grisham

Active - 1993 - 2020  |   Born - Feb 8, 1965   |   Genres - Drama, Thriller

Share on

Biography by Aubry Anne D'Arminio

Every spring, lawyer-turned-novelist John Grisham dominates the publishing world with a new bestseller. Nicknamed "Hurricane Grisham" by journalists, he has taken Hollywood by storm as well: Grisham's made-for-adaptation legal thrillers have spawned the blockbusters The Firm (1993), The Pelican Brief (1993), The Client (1994), and A Time to Kill (1996), inspiring Film Comment to concede that he may be one of cinema's new auteurs.

Born John Grisham Jr. on February 8, 1965 in Jonesboro, AR, Grisham is the second oldest of five children. His father, an itinerant construction worker, relocated the family often -- they lived in five different cities before settling in Southaven, MS, when Grisham turned 12. An avid reader, the first thing Grisham did in each new town was get a library card. In Southaven, he discovered the work of author John Steinbeck and began to entertain the idea of becoming a writer. Yet, he also loved sports and dreamed of playing professional baseball. Grisham spent one year on the team at Northwest Mississippi Junior College in nearby Senatobia. He then transferred to Delta State, where he walked onto the baseball team to disastrous results -- he could no longer hit a fastball and had grown afraid of curveballs. After giving up sports, Grisham left Delta to enroll at Mississippi State University.

Though he had never before been a serious student, Grisham began studying relentlessly. At the suggestion of a friend, he switched his major from economics to accounting with the hope of becoming a tax lawyer. He would also read all the latest best-sellers, eventually catching what he called "novel fever" and trying to write his own book. Though he never completed it, the task got him into the habit of keeping a journal of story ideas as a break from studying. After graduating in 1977, he attended law school at the University of Mississippi, where he changed his focus to criminal law. He also began writing another book, but gave up after only one chapter.

Grisham earned his J.D. in 1981 and moved back to Southaven to open a private practice. Bored with criminal law, he became a very successful civil lawyer -- winning one of the largest settlements in Mississippi's De Soto County -- but was still unsatisfied. He decided to enter politics and won a seat in the Mississippi State Legislature in 1983. A year later, inspired by the real-life testimony of a 12-year-old rape victim, he began writing a third novel with one goal: to finish it.

For three years, Grisham woke up at dawn to write before going to work. He eventually sold the manuscript, titled A Time to Kill, to a small press who published only 5,000 copies, most of which Grisham bought himself. Undiscouraged, he was already well on his way to completing a second book. Following the Writer's Digest guidelines for composing a suspense novel, he plotted The Firm, the story of a Harvard law graduate who is recruited by a high-profile Memphis law firm that turns out to be a mob front. While Grisham struggled to get the manuscript published, a bootleg copy began circulating around Hollywood unbeknownst to its author. Paramount offered him 600,000 dollars for the film rights, which instantly made The Firm a hot commodity among U.S. publishers. The novel stayed on the New York Times best-seller list for 47 weeks. It's big-screen version, directed by Sydney Pollack and starring Tom Cruise, Gene Hackman, and Holly Hunter, was a huge success.

After selling The Firm, Grisham closed his law practice and resigned from his legislative post. He began writing full-time, churning out an average of one book a year, most of which were optioned by movie studios before they were even finished. His third novel, The Pelican Brief, became 1992's longest-running hardcover best-seller and went into production under director Alan Pakula. The author watched the adaptation, which starred Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington, for the first time at the White House with President Clinton (Grisham's distant cousin) and his wife, Hillary. Grisham's next work, The Client (1994), spawned both a Joel Schumacher film starring Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones and a television series. Producer Brian Grazer then snatched up the rights to Grisham's The Chamber for 3.75 million dollars based on only the synopsis. Directed by James Foley, the film starred Chris O'Donnell and Gene Hackman.

In the meantime, Doubleday bought the paperback rights to A Time to Kill and republished the book. Grisham sold the film rights to Warner Bros. who let him handpick its director, Joel Schumacher. Together, they chose the cast, which included Matthew McConaughey, Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Spacey, and Sandra Bullock. The film was a commercial and critical hit, and paved the way for Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of Grisham's sixth novel, The Rainmaker (1997). Legendary director Robert Altman then developed The Gingerbread Man (1998) from Grisham's screenplay idea. Though the author only received story credit on the film, Grisham soon began working on his first original screenplay to be made into a feature, Mickey (2002). Starring Harry Connick Jr., the baseball movie is also Grisham's first film to take place entirely outside the courtroom. However, its release was overshadowed by hype for Warner Bros.' multimillion-dollar adaptation of the author's The Runaway Jury (2003), starring John Cusack, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Weisz, and Grisham-regular Gene Hackman.

Grisham's numerous other novels include The Partner, The Street Lawyer, The Testament, The Bretheren, A Painted House, Skipping Christmas, and The Summons -- all have screenplay potential. Despite his success as a writer, Grisham claims that he would still love to coach baseball, and still serves as the local Little League commissioner. He owns six baseball fields which have hosted over 350 young players.

Movie Highlights

See Full Filmography